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Topic: Illusion Design
Message: Posted by: Lastormdsm (Mar 7, 2007 11:25PM)
I'm in school to become a mechanical engineer and lately have been throwing around the idea of designing illusions. Whats an ideal way to get started in this field aside from the obvious drawing/building your own for personal use? Are there any apprentice type positions that any of the companies offer or any other similar opportunities for someone without a lot connections in the magic world? Thanks in advance!
Message: Posted by: reedrc (Mar 8, 2007 09:09AM)
Learn. (This is what I did, and proved to be VERY useful to what I do).

Computer / CAD Design.
Computer / 3D Animation.
Computer / Lighting Design & Automated lighting design - Start with light jockey, apply that to the first two things I just listed.
Staging, Rigging, Lighting (conventional) and stagecraft.

Intern with a touring company as a stagehand - learn what its LIKE on tour packing cases and setup and teardown. This will give you a practical and hands-on what its like to do this so you can design your props efficiently and appropriately. Not only for weight, breakdown. But you'll see why it’s important to design in materials that don't break down as easy.

Learn Live / PA sound - Setup and config / Running the sound -setup/ teardown and load-out.
Learn Live/ AUTOMATED lighting design, control, running - maintenance of the fixtures/ setup/ / teardown & load-out.

Stagecraft. Learning theatre technologies and how things are done ON DECK, behind the scenes, what's new, and attention to safety.

ON DESIGN: its sad but true either you have the eye or you don't. Plain and simple. If you feel you have the eye and have positive feedback on that from your peers then continue with what you've learned from above.

Attention to magic history & what’s been done before. WHY and HOW, what could be done better. And WHY it works well when it works.

Start picking up those illusion books. Start learning the ins and outs of the HARDWARE (not so much the effects but HOW the effects are implemented).

Start designing - try to stay away from the same old thing. Try to push the envelope. DO YOUR OWN THING. Set your own bar. Most of this stuff you will need to teach yourself. If you do it right. You could be among the elite designers out there.

Hope this helps...
Good luck!
Message: Posted by: Lastormdsm (Mar 8, 2007 12:29PM)
Excellent information, thank you so much.

I'm good with Autocad and Solidworks now and think I have a good eye for design. I’m just not sure how to get started without a big budget.

If I could design an elaborate illusion, build it, then demonstrate it to others, I can see where it would be much easier to do. But if all I have are drawings with concept art and the workings, it would be hard to market without giving away all the hard work. This would be interesting and challenging work. I just need to find a good way into the business.

Any good suggestions on "Illusion books"?
Message: Posted by: reedrc (Mar 8, 2007 02:20PM)
There is no "way" into the business.
You'll need to pay your dues and study. Do your own thing. Only then you'll be recognized for your work & expertise.
Message: Posted by: Lastormdsm (Mar 8, 2007 02:27PM)
Sounds like a plan. I better get to work...(lol!) By the way, reedrc, your web page is very impressive.
Message: Posted by: silverking (Mar 8, 2007 03:16PM)
Ryan’s post was excellent, best I've read on the Café about getting into any aspect of magic as a profession.

Also to ask yourself is, do you know enough about existing illusions to move forward and either create something completely new, or to re-purpose an old method with a fresh new look?

In the end, you've simply got to have excellent chops in every aspect of the business, great people skills, and a strong desire to achieve in magic. You also have to be like a shark, always moving forward. Many wait for opportunity to come to them, and it usually won't. Opportunity tends to be off in the distance, waiting for folks with the jam to come and find it.

There will be walls purposefully put in your way (designed to keep the only mildly interested OUT) which you will have to work around, but in the end, those with the right mojo always wind up where they at one time imagined they'd be.

...Oh, and ALWAYS spell-check.
Message: Posted by: reedrc (Mar 8, 2007 05:34PM)
Also. Some things I forgot:

Be the tip of the sword. Educate yourself in new technologies. Subscribe to Front Of House Magazine, PLSN (pro light and sound) MAGIC, and applicable publications. Know what's out there and start thinking of how that stuff can apply to modern stagecraft. Even behind the scenes. How can this stuff make things better for the SHOW or for our audiences?

And most important: A willingness to be humble. Work with other designers and respect the rights, and proprietary material from past and present. It’s a downright competitive business. But again: either you have it or you don't.

Some of the closest and highly respected and trusted friends I have are other designers. (Parker, JC, Steinmeyer, Gaughan, Kennedy, Wolf, Blagg, Rogers, Wayne, Kalin, enter name of the guys I may have forgotten here) who take that time to talk, to share and be giving, honest and true professionals and colleagues. I feel tapping each other for the tools to create new things and aid each other in the advancement of our art is essential to its survival. Its GOOD to be secretive. But it’s bad to be closed off. Be approachable.

Being an illusioneer can be one of the best things that will happen to you, as well as an obsession and every day every second of your life will be thinking of how things could apply to a new illusion or effect.

It’s almost like deciding to take the red pill. Once you jump in. There's no going back. (A blessing and a curse) Those die-hard designers / performers out there will know what I mean.

Good luck. Thanks for the nice comments.
Message: Posted by: reedrc (Mar 8, 2007 05:58PM)
Illusion Books:

Anything by Jim Steinmeyer
Mark Parker
JC Sum
Milan Forzetting
“Suspensions and Levitations” (Out of print but one can find this if they were to look hard enough.)
Woodbury: "The Base Book"

WATCH EVERY MAGIC SHOW YOU CAN - Start looking at HOW THINGS are working. Ask yourself “WHY DO THEY WORK SO WELL”. Take note of the builder's and designers.
STUDY THEIR WORK: This will help you do what’s CORRECT and avoid bad designing from the beginning.

Builder’s works I'd start with: (order of preference…)

David Mendoza (great modern magic, high end mechanics & props).

Bill Smith's Magic Ventures (themed and artistic pieces interesting use of all kinds of materials).

Creative Illusions (great use of stairs and bases / cutting in half & lev units)

Willie Kennedy Magic Effects (genius. High-end metal work & elite and downright perfect bases, stairs and Huge appearances of objects, and mechanical type stuff - attention to perfection and steadfast road gear, and safety to the performer. One of the highest regarded builders in my collection of hero's).

Parker - Downright nice guy, and some really innovative and industry changing concepts and design.

Johnny Gaughan - (Levitation, historical props, specialty pieces, also amazing). Track down "Eric" his assistant - Much to learn from him.
Message: Posted by: Lance Richardson (Mar 8, 2007 06:17PM)
Also look into the Carrara 5 software, its great. http://www.daz3d.com

Message: Posted by: Lance Richardson (Mar 8, 2007 10:47PM)
Also a software by the name of Bryce is being sold at Fry's Electronics, its a nationwide company and that software may be a good start. Bryce is provided by daz3d also. Look at your local electronics stores, you never know what you can come across.

Message: Posted by: The Mirror Images (Mar 8, 2007 11:07PM)
http://www.blender.org/ this one is free. And worth checking out. Not as easy as the other programs out there. But still worth checking out.

Carrara is also a great program too.
Message: Posted by: AmazingEARL (Mar 9, 2007 07:35AM)
For 3D visualization software, I use Amorphium 3. (www.Amorphium.com) It's cheap and low-end, but dirt simple to work with and does the job.

Message: Posted by: The Mirror Images (Mar 9, 2007 08:43AM)
Well I think it is time to let the cat out of the bag.

I have been thinking about it since last night and here is what I have written up.

I am not going to tell you how to become a designer because we all have our own ways of working. I have my own logic behind coming up with an illusion that will be different from what you do. So find what best suits you - we are all different and we all learn at a different pass. I have compiled a list of programs and listed the pros and cons. These programs will help you with your designs and design concepts. Another great way of learning is reading various books - most design concepts can be found in books readily available in magic shops.

Now remember one thing - designing IS NOT about how snappy or snazzy it looks - its about how it works in the end - how it fits on stage - how is it handled on stage - how deceptive the design is. Your point is still proven no matter what the design outcome. You don't have to have a state of the art 3d Rendering - it can be simple and as you grow you will get to the point of where it looks pretty sharp (no matter what program you are using).

So lets go ahead and explore the various programs that will help you along the way of growing as a designer (starting with the highest priced product to the least expensive):

Solid Works: http://www.solidworks.com/
Pro -- Solid works is an amazing 3d prototyping program. If you can afford this program this is what I would highly recommend. Reason being is you can build a 3d model of your illusion and it will actually go through routines to make sure everything fits / works properly / and amazingly enough if you are taking it apart - you can design a case around it. It is what automobile companies use to make sure all there parts work and what size parts they need. This is amazing when it comes to all those movable parts. Most 3d rendering software don't tell you - hey you can't do this because of this, this, this, and this. So this will ensure that you are providing to a builder a top notch product.

Con -- Well the biggest con against this program is its price tag. If price isn't a problem then there is no con for this product.

Price -- You can purchase the education version for $150 or less. But as for the full version it will cost you above $700. You will need to get a quote.

Carrara: http://www.daz3d.com/
Pro -- Great program to work with. This both works on a Mac and PC which makes this a major plus. Daz3d gives you the option to choose two different packages. The Pro or the Basic. It is great when companies give you options. This is a feature rich software that allows you to do 3d modeling and integrate 3rd party software. Such software is like Bryce 3D (this is for landscape) and Poser 3D (this is for people). With a package that has more features then I can sit and talk about it makes it tough for the decision between Solid Works and Carrara itself. Also this product has a very attractive price tag.

Con - One of the biggest down falls with Carrara that I can see (along with other software) is there is no way to determine with movable parts if it will actually work in real life. Remember this is just on a PC - taking it into the real world can be completely different. So if you choose Carrara be careful when you design movable parts. One of the greatest things about Solid Works is that feature.

Price -- Carrara 3D Basic 2: $99.95 |Carrara 5: $249.00 |Carrara 5 Pro: $549.00

Amorphium: http://www.Amorphium.com
Pro -- This product is another great product for 3d rendering and visualizing for what you are wanting to achieve. I have only played with this a few times but I can say I was impressed for the price tag it had. For only $79 dollars its quite impressive. This product does not require 3rd party plugins to achieve real life looking people in your renderings. One thing holds true about this product is the ease of use. Its layout is easy to find what your looking for. For Mac and PC

Con -- The features on this product are a bit limited from what I have found. There are things you can do in Carrara or in Solid Works that you can not do in here. Although these where for landscape objects and I am sure that most of you will not be putting anything outside and so forth. To be honest I would put this at the bottom of my recommendation list - although since I am going in price order I can not as of now.

Price: $79.00

Blender 3D: http://www.blender.org
Pros -- The number 1 pro is - ITS FREE. Free for you and free for me. Possibly one of the most fascinating features of this product is its price tag and the ability to do SO much. This software gives out better results then even the higher dollar products. I have seen renderings from Blender 3D come out better then those from Carrara. One of the nicest things is the size of the program. It does all of its powerhousing just from a 8 Meg file - which is impressive as others take up 100's of megs of space - not to mention the project files for the other programs are huge while these are small and take up less space. The perfection and quality of the rendering of these images that Blender puts out is AMAZING for a free product. You will find that designing in here can become a lot of fun to see your results fast. This also does animation so that you can see your illusion in action. This works on a Windows / Linux / Mac OS X / Solaris (for those of you who have one) / Free BSD

Cons -- Although this product is free - just like any other product this has just a slight learning curve to it. But don't let that take it away from it.

Price: FREE (download here: http://www.blender.org/download/get-blender/ )

Conclusion - with so many choices to get you started off it will be interesting to see your choices in software and what your work looks like as you progress. I wish you all lots of luck and success.

I am sure most of you are wondering which software would I go with first. Well here is my honest opinion:

I recommend the following 1 being the strongest and 4 being the least strongest:

1: Blender 3d - perfect for starting off - powerful and enterprise ready
2: Solid Works - GREAT for making sure all your parts work.
3: Carrara - this is perfect for those that want to use 3rd party products that daz3d offers.
4: Amorphium 3 - good for those that have a very tight pocket.

There are also other products not mentioned but are worth mentioning here:

Good luck and god speed.


Magically yours,

--Steven and Michal - The Mirror Images
Message: Posted by: Lance Richardson (Mar 9, 2007 11:36AM)
Great post Mirror Images, this will help all the budding illusion designers out there and some old dogs like me.

Message: Posted by: Lastormdsm (Mar 9, 2007 05:49PM)
Thank you guys so much for the replies! Didn't expect to hear much as most of my posts haven't received a lot of attention, but I have learned much more from this thread than I ever expected. I really appreciate all the help.

In the software department I'm doing well. At school I was able to pick up Autocad 2007 and Solidworks 2006 and have both of them running on my comp as we speak.

Already made my first challenge to design. Probably should have picked something more simple, but at least it will keep me busy for awhile. Would like to do a sport bike production off of a flat thin (as possible) platform. Have some ideas and started looking at different designs on CAD last night. Was looking at my measurements last night and realized this will be fun seeing that about where your knees sit is 21 inches wide...lol. Should be fun little project for me over the next year or so.

I'm heading over to the shop tomorrow to pick up card college 5 and am going to pick up as many of the books listed as possible. Thanks again for all your help.
Message: Posted by: magicjohn2278 (Mar 9, 2007 07:17PM)
On 2007-03-09 09:43, The Mirror Images wrote:

Blender 3D: http://www.blender.org
Pros -- The number 1 pro is - ITS FREE......

Cons -- Although this product is free - just like any other product this has just a slight learning curve to it.[/quote]

Slight!?.... LOL!
Message: Posted by: reedrc (Mar 10, 2007 08:17AM)